And it was all going so well…… Sunday saw me taking Amber out for our first SJ competition. Just a 70cm round at a local venue. She was surprisingly chilled and surprisingly rideable and we popped round clear. So we entered the next class – the 75cm. She was a little less chilled and a little less rideable. Resulting in me forgetting to look up, forcing her onto the forehand for a pole. Then losing my brakes so she ran past fence 7. Then forgetting to look ahead to the next fence so she did not make a tightish turn to a skinny. 12 faults. Oh dear.
So today I booked in for a jumping clinic. And she was even less rideable. She was powerful & enthusiastic. So much so that she just pinged me completely off her by jumping huge over a small fence! How embarrassing. And how frustrating.
There is a lot of social media hate at the moment directed at a mediocre rider on an awesome horse. Well that’s pretty much how I feel. I felt obliged to explain to the trainer today that I did not set out to buy a horse like Amber, and that I know that I am not good enough for her but she was a dealer swap, sold from the field. “Well that dealer had no clue what he had stood in his field’, she remarked, adding that Amber had pretty much limitless potential in terms of how far I could take her. The trouble is I can’t really ride her yet! When she is relaxed (as she usually is at home now) then yes we have made huge strides over the last few months and I begin to feel like the partnership is really coming together. But then we have days like today when her adrenaline is up a bit and I feel like a complete beginner again. Which is pretty disheartening tbh.
The trainer said Amber is a bit like a Porsche 911: she will respond beautifully but she is sensitive and she is very powerful with phenomenal acceleration and a huge jump. Riding that power is bloody scary and not always easy……. but exciting once you get the hang of it….
So today’s lesson was illuminating in that it shone a spotlight on my failings as a rider. Which is fine – it’s not exactly news…. My hips are tight, I don’t have an independent seat, I can’t sit into her movement so I brace to stop bouncing, I balance on my hands, I don’t use my core enough and I give too many unintentional cues with my flappy legs! Poor Amber. But the good news is she is forgiving. When I get it right everything about her softens. Her facial expression, her neck, her paces, her reactions. Suddenly there seems ample time between fences and it all feels relaxed and easy. You can almost feel the sigh of relief and her saying: “that’s better can’t you just ride like that all the time?” Sorry Amber but actually no I truly can’t! Not yet anyway. But even when I get it wrong she is generous to me. She signals her displeasure with her ears and tail and with tension but she doesn’t ditch me. She still listens and tries to comply.
Having a horse like her feels like a huge privilege. And also a huge responsibility. Let’s hope I can raise my game to be worthy of her….. Aintree indoor SJ on Sunday feels like it has come around too soon. We aren’t ready to compete over 80cm (the lowest round). (Well she is, I’m not!) So instead I will try again at 70 and 75 at my local venue on Sunday instead. And in the meantime get to work on those hips (and core, and seat and hands and legs and feet and balance and brain…….)